Nogent-sur-Seine (pronunciation here) is a quiet town of nearly 6000 people, located 93 km southeast of Paris. In the nineteenth century, four generations of sculptors lived in Nogent-sur-Seine. They were Marius Ramus (1805-1888), Paul Dubois (1829-1905), Alfred Boucher (1850-1934) and finally Camille Claudel (1864-1943).
In 2017 the world’s first Camille Claudel museum was opened in Nogent-sur-Seine, in the house where she lived with her family for several years during her adolescence. Next to their house a modern exhibition hall has been built, and the two buildings together house forty sculptures and other art works by Camille Claudel — about half of her surviving works — along with sculptures by Alfred Boucher, Paul Dubois and others who influenced her.
Nogent-sur-Seine was where she met Alfred Boucher, who encouraged her interest in sculpture and became her first teacher when she moved to Paris. It was Boucher who introduced her to Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), the great sculptor who became her teacher, colleague and lover for nearly a decade, starting around 1884 when she was twenty years old.
The museum in Nogent-sur-Seine shows works from all stages of Camille Claudel’s career, from the collections of Reine-Marie Paris and Philippe Cressent, supplemented by later purchases.
Reine-Marie Paris is the author of several books on Camille Claudel. She is the granddaughter of Camille’s brother, the poet and diplomat Paul Claudel, so that would make her the great-niece of Camille Claudel.
One reason why so few of Camille’s works have survived is that she destroyed many of them herself, in the early years of the twentieth century when she was working in isolation in her atelier in the Hôtel de Jassaud on the island of Saint-Louis in Paris. During these years she gradually descended into depression, paranoia or simply despair since her artistic and personal life had reached a dead end. In 1913 she was committed to an insane asylum by her brother, Paul Claudel, and she remained there for the last thirty years of her life, though it was by no means clear that such a long confinement was really necessary.
After decades of neglect, Camille Claudel’s posthumous reputation was revived by the efforts of Reine-Marie Paris and especially by a film that came out in 1988 starring Isabelle Adjani as Camille and Gérard Depardieu as Rodin. (The entire film can be seen on YouTube, as can the original French trailer.)
Nogent-sur-Seine is an easy day trip from Paris. There are trains several times a day, from the Gare de l’Est (East Station) — shown here with a poster advertising the Camille Claudel Museum. The train trip takes about an hour each way and is often non-stop between Paris and Nogent. In 2017 I paid €19.80 each way for the train.
From the station it is only a short walk to the museum, which is at 10 Rue Gustave Flaubert. Just follow the signs.
On your way from the station to the museum you cross a bridge over the Seine, which is not nearly as wide as in Paris because it is further upstream. Like many other French towns, Nogent is close to a large nuclear power plant.
On your way to the museum you also pass this historic ‘House of the Turk’, which is mentioned in one of the novels of Gustave Flaubert.
My photos and text in this post are from 2017.
More sculptures by Camille Claudel are on display at the Rodin Museum in Paris.